How lucky for all that Yingluck fled

Editorial | 28 Aug 2017

Yingluck Shinawatra's escape from Thailand ahead of a court verdict that was expected to land her in jail for up to 10 years will tilt the country's politics back in favor of the Bangkok establishment.

The current government, led by ex- army general Prayut Chan-o-cha said they hadn't cut a deal with Yingluck to let the ousted prime minister go, but her "escape" - reportedly last week - came surely as a relief for the junta.

For about a decade, the Shinawatra dynasty had held power in Thailand with the support of peasants in rural areas.

Now, with her gone, that pendulum of power will swing to the military, technocrats, old power cliques, and the well-connected in business.

Prayut and the establishment he represents can bet on neutralizing the remaining influence of the Shinawatra family ahead of an election expected as early as next year.

Instead of letting the woman become a heroine of the masses that her family had dominated for so long, Yingluck can now be portrayed as a coward betrayer of her supporters, and her Pheu Thai party can be reduced to political insignificance.

While Prayut claimed he had no prior knowledge of her escape plan, he's probably grinning from ear to ear.

Thailand's politics has been broadly divided between the "Red Shirt" and "Yellow Shirt" movements. The Red mass movement was founded by Yingluck's 68-year-old brother Thaksin, who served as prime minister from February 2001 to September 2006, before he was deposed in a military coup.

His party was outlawed and he was barred from political activity, and has lived in self-exile - mostly in Dubai - ever since. In 2008, billionaire Thaksin was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail for abuse of power.

In 2011, the Shinawatra family returned to power. Riding on a rice subsidy scheme to benefit farmers, Yingluck became the country's first female prime minister, after the party that Thaksin's followers formed won a landslide election victory.

The Constitutional Court unanimously dismissed Yingluck from office in May 2014, when the National Anti- Corruption Commission indicted her in the rice-pledging scheme, citing millions of rice farmers who remain unpaid.

Comments made by the junta after Yingluck's flight to Dubai via Singapore aboard a private jet to join her brother were extraordinary. For Prayut ordered border security be stepped up. Number 2 Prawit Wongsuwan said Yingluck had gone to Cambodia, while a naval source asserted she had escaped by sea.

All seemed to have been said to increase confusion to protect those involved.

But Prayut's immediate remarks did offer some clues. He said if Yingluck felt she was innocent, she should have stayed to fight the court case. "If she's not here, what does that tell you?" he said.

Prayut wasn't mocking her. He was addressing her followers - uneducated farmers who had supported her and Thaksin.

The campaign to discredit Yingluck will press on.

Whether her escape resulted from a deal, it was the best possible outcome for the establishment. If she was jailed, she would become a martyr, and there could be fresh unrest. If she was acquitted, it's bound to anger government supporters.

In the final analysis, it was probably best for her to flee the coop.



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